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Lecture 12 The Belief in Immortality Among the Natives of German New Guinea (continued)

Lecture 12
The Belief in Immortality Among the Natives of German New Guinea (continued)
The Bukaua of German New Guinea.
IN the last lecture I described the beliefs and practices concerning the dead as they are to be found among the Yabim of German New Guinea. To-day we begin with the Bukaua a kindred and neighbouring tribe which occupies the coast lands of the northern portion of Huon Gulf from Schollenbruch Point to Samoa Harbour. The language which the Bukaua speak belongs like the language of the Yabim to the Melanesian not to the Papuan family. Their customs and beliefs have been reported by a German missionary Mr. Stefan Lehner whose account I follow.1 In many respects they closely resemble those of their neighbours the Yabim.
Means of subsistence of the Bukaua.
Men' clubhouses.

The Bukaua are an agricultural people who subsist mainly on the crops of taro which they raise. But they also cultivate many kinds of bananas and vegetables together with sugar-cane sago and tobacco. From time to time they cut down and burn the forest in order to obtain fresh fields for cultivation. The land is not held in common. Each family has its own fields and patches of forest and would resent the intrusion of others on their hereditary domain. Hunting and fishing supply them with animal food to eke out the vegetable nourishment which they draw from their fields and plantations.2 Every village contains one or more of the men's clubhouses which are a common feature in the social life of the tribes on this coast. In these club houses the young men are obliged to sleep and on the platforms in front of them the older men hold their councils. Such a clubhouse is called a lum.3

Beliefs of the concerning the souls of the dead.
Sickness and disease attributed to agency.
The Bukaua have a firm belief in the existence of the human soul after death. They think that a man's soul can even quit his body temporarily in his lifetime during sleep or a swoon and that in its disembodied state it can appear to people at a distance; but such apparitions are regarded as omens of approaching death when the soul will depart for good and all. The soul of a dead man is called a balum. The spirits of the departed are believed to be generally mischievous and spiteful to the living but they can be appeased by sacrifice and other measures can be taken to avert their dangerous influence.4 They are very touchy and if they imagine that they are not honoured enough by their kinsfolk and that the offerings made to them arc insufficient they will avenge the slight by visiting their disrespectful and stingy relatives with sickness and disease. Among the maladies which the natives ascribe to the anger of ghosts are epilepsy fainting fits and wasting decline.5 When a man suffers from a sore which he believes to have been inflicted on him by a ghost he will take a stone from the fence of the grave and heat it in the fire saying: “Father see thou hast gone I am left I must till the land in thy stead and care for my brothers and sisters. Do me good again.” Then he dips the hot stone in a puddle on the grave and holds his sore in the steam which rises from it. His pain is eased thereby and he explains the alleviation which he feels by saying “The spirit of the dead man has eaten up the wound.”6
Sickness and death often ascribed by the Bukaua to sorcery.
But like most savages the Bukaua attribute many illnesses and many deaths not to the wrath of ghosts but to the malignant arts of sorcerers; and in such cases they usually endeavour by means of divination to ascertain the culprit and to avenge the death of their friend by taking the life of his imaginary murderer.7 If they fail to exact vengeance the ghost is believed to be very angry and they must be on their guard against him. He may meet them anywhere but is especially apt to dog the footsteps of the sorcerer who killed him. Hence when on the occasion of a great feast the sorcerer comes to the village of his victim the surviving relatives of the dead man are at particular pains to protect themselves and their property against the insidious attacks of the prowling ghost. For this purpose they bury a creeper with white blossoms in the path leading to the village; the ghost is thought to be filled with fear at the sight of it and to turn back leaving his kinsfolk their dogs and pigs in peace.8
Fear of the ghosts of spirits the slain.
Another class of ghosts who are much dreaded are the sprits of slain foes. They are believed to pursue their slayers to the village and to blind them so that sooner or later they fall an easy prey to their enemies. Hence when a party of warriors has returned home from a successful attack on a village in which they have butchered all on whom they could lay their hands they kindle a great fire dance wildly about it and hurl burning brands in the direction of the battlefield in order to keep the ghosts of their slaughtered foes at bay. Phosphorescent lights seen under the houses throw the inmates into great alarm for they are thought to be the souls of the slain. Sometimes the vanquished in battle resort to a curious ruse for the purpose of avenging themselves on the victors by means of a ghost. They take the sleeping-mat of one of the slain roll it up in a bundle along with his loin-cloth apron netted bag or head-rest and give the bundle to two cripples to carry. Then they steal quietly to the landing-place of their foes peering warily about lest they should be observed. The bundle represents the dead man and the cripples who carry it reel to and fro and finally sink to the ground with their burden. In this way the ghost of the victim whose things are carried in the bundle is supposed to make their enemies weak and tottery. Strong young men are not given the bundle to carry lest the ghost should spoil their manly figures; whereas if he should wound or maim a couple of poor cripples no great harm is done.9
Ghosts of ancestors appealed to for help especially in the cultivation of the ground.
First-fruits offered to the sprits of the dead.
However the Bukaua also look on the ghosts of their ancestors in a more amiable light as beings who if properly appealed to can and will help them in the affairs of life especially by procuring for them good crops. Hence when they are planting their fields which are formed in clearings of the forest they take particular care to insert shoots of all their crops in the ground near the tree stumps which remain standing because the souls of their dead grandfathers and great-grandfathers are believed to be sitting on the stumps watching their descendants at their work. Accordingly in the act of planting they call out the names of these forefathers and pray them to guard the field in order that their living children may have food and not suffer from hunger. And at harvest when the first-fruits of the taro bananas sugar-cane and so forth have been brought back from the fields a portion of them is offered in a bowl to the spirits of the forefathers in the house of the landowner and the spirits are addressed in prayer as follows: “O ye who have guarded our field as we prayed you to do there is something for you; now and henceforth behold us with favour.” While the family are feasting on the rest of the first-fruits the householder will surreptitiously stir the offerings in the bowl with his finger and will then shew the bowl to the others as a proof that the souls of the dead have really partaken of the good things provided for them.10 A hunter will also pray to his dead father to drive the wild pigs into his net.11
Burial and mourning customs of the Bukaua.
The Bukaua bury their dead in shallow graves which and are sometimes dug under the houses but more usually in front of or beside them. Along with the corpses are deposited bags of taro nuts drinking-vessels and other articles of daily use. Only the stone axes are too valuable to be thus sacrificed. Over the grave is erected a rude hut in which the widower if the deceased was a married woman remains for a time in seclusion. A widow on the death of her husband remains in the house. Widow and widower may not shew themselves in public until they have prepared their mourning costume. The widower wears a black hat made of bark cords round his neck wicker work on his arms and feet and a torn old bracelet of his wife in a bag on his breast. A widow is completely swathed in nets one over the other and she carries about with her the loincloth of her deceased husband. The souls of the dead dwell in a subterranean region called lamboam and their life there seems to resemble life here on earth; but the ideas of the people on the subject are very vague.12
Initiation of young men among the Bukaua.
Lads at circumcision supposed to be swallowed by a monster.
The customs and beliefs of the Bukaua in regard to the initiation of young men are practically identical with those of their neighbours the Yabim. Indeed the initiatory ceremonies are performed by the tribes jointly now in the territory of the Bukaua now in the territory of the Yabim or in the land of the Kai a tribe of mountaineers or again in the neighbouring Tami islands. The intervals between the ceremonies vary from ten to eighteen years.13 The central feature of the initiatory rites is the circumcision of the novices. It is given out that the lads are swallowed by a ferocious monster called a balum who however is induced by the sacrifice of many pigs to vomit them up again. In spewing them out of his maw he bites or scratches them and the wound so inflicted is circumcision. This explanation of the rite is fobbed off on the women who more or less believe it and weep accordingly when their sons are led away to be committed to the monster's jaws. And when the time for the ceremony is approaching the fond mothers busy themselves with rearing and fattening young pigs so that they may be able with them to redeem their loved ones from the belly of the ravenous beast; for he must have a pig for every boy. When a lad bleeds to death from the effect of the operation he is secretly buried and his sorrowful mother is told that the monster swallowed him and refused to bring him up again. What really happens is that the youths are shut up for several months in a house specially built for the purpose in the village. During their seclusion they are under the charge of guardians usually two young men and must observe strictly a rule of fasting and chastity. When they are judged to be ready to undergo the rite they are led forth and circumcised in front of the house amid a prodigious uproar made by the swinging of bull-roarers. The noise is supposed to be the voice of the monster who swallows and vomits up the novice at circumcision. The bull-roarer as well as the monster bears the name of balum and the building in which the novices are lodged before and after the operation is called the monster's house (balumslum). After they have been circumcised the lads remain in the house for several months till their wounds are healed; then painted and bedizened with all the ornaments that can be collected they are brought back and restored to their joyful mothers. Women must vacate the village for a long time while the initiatory ceremonies are being performed.14
Novices at circumcision supposed to be killed and then resorted to a new and higher life.
The meaning of the whole rite as I pointed out in dealing with the similar initiatory rite of the Yabim appears to be that the novices are killed and then restored to a new and better life; for after their initiation they rank no longer as boys but as full-grown men entitled to all the privileges of manhood and citizenship if we can speak of such a thing as citizenship among the savages of New Guinea. This interpretation of the rite is supported by the notable fact that the Bukaua like the Yabim give the name of balum to the souls of the dead as well as to the mythical monster and to the bull-roarer; this shews how intimately the three things are associated in their minds. Indeed not only is the bull-roarer in general associated with the souls of the dead by a community of name but among the Bukaua each particular bull-roarer bears in addition the name of a particular dead man and varies in dignity and importance with the dignity and importance of the deceased person whom it represents. The most venerated of all are curiously carved and have been handed down for generations; they bear the names of famous warriors or magicians of old and are supposed to reproduce the personal peculiarities of the celebrated originals in their shape and tones. And there are smaller bull-roarers which emit shriller notes and are thought to represent the shrill-voiced wives of the ancient heroes.15
The Kai tribe of saddle Mountain in German New Guinea.
The land of the Kai.
Their mode of cultivation.
Their villages
The Bukaua and the Yabim the two tribes with which I have been dealing in this and the last lecture inhabit as I have said the coast about Finsch Harbour and speak a Melanesian language. We now pass from them to the consideration of another people belonging to a different stock and speaking a different language who inhabit the rugged and densely wooded mountains inland from Finsch Harbour. Their neighbours on the coast call these mountaineers by the name of Kai a word which signifies forest or inland in opposition to the seashore; and this name of the tribe we may adopt following the example of a German missionary Mr. Ch. Keysser who has laboured among them for more than eleven years and has given us an excellent description of their customs and beliefs. His account applies particularly to the natives of what is called Saddle Mountain the part of the range which advances nearest to the coast and rises to the height of about three thousand feet. It is a rough broken country cleft by many ravines and covered with forest bush or bamboo thickets; though here and there at rare intervals some brown patches mark the clearings which the sparse inhabitants have made for the purpose of cultivation. Water is plentiful. Springs gush forth everywhere in the glens and valleys and rushing streams of crystal-clear water pour down the mountain sides and in the clefts of the hills are lonely tarns the undisturbed haunts of wild ducks and other water fowl. During the wet season which extends from June to August the rain descends in sheets and the mountains are sometimes covered for weeks together with so thick a mist that all prospect is cut off at the distance of a hundred yards. The natives are then loth to leave their huts and will spend the day crouching over a fire. They are a shorter and sturdier race than the tribes on the coast; the expression of their face is less frank and agreeable and their persons are very much dirtier. They belong to the aboriginal Papuan stock whereas the Yabim and Bukaua on the coast are probably immigrants from beyond the sea who have driven the indigenous population back into the mountains.16 Their staple foods are taro and yams which they grow in their fields. A field is cultivated for only one year at a time; it is then allowed to lie fallow and is soon overgrown with rank underwood. Six or eight years may elapse before it is again cleared and brought under cultivation. Game and fish abound in the woods and waters and the Kai make free use of these natural resources. They keep pigs and dogs and cat the flesh of both. Pork is indeed a favourite viand figuring largely in the banquets which are held at the circumcision festivals.17 The people live in small villages each village comprising from two to six houses. The houses are raised on piles and the walls are usually constructed of pandanus leaves though many natives now make them of boards. After eighteen months or two years the houses are so rotten and tumble-down that the village is deserted and a new one built on another site. Assembly-houses are erected only for the circumcision ceremonies and the bull-roarers used on these occasions are kept in them. Husband and wife live together often two couples in one hut; but each family has its own side of the house and its own fireplace. In times of insecurity the Kai used to build their huts for safety among the spreading boughs of great trees. A whole village consisting of three or four huts might thus be quartered on a single tree. Of late years with the peace and protection for life introduced by German rule these tree-houses have gone out of fashion.18
Observations of a German missionary on the animistic beliefs of the Kai
After describing the manners and customs of the Kai people at some length the German missionary who knows them intimately proceeds to give us a very valuable account of their old native religion or superstition. He prefaces his account with some observations the fruit of long experience which deserve to be laid to heart by all who attempt to penetrate into the inner life the thoughts the feelings the motives of savages. As his remarks are very germane to the subject of these lectures I will translate them. He says: “In the preceding chapters I have sketched the daily life of the Kai people. But I have not attempted to set forth the reasons for their conduct which is often very peculiar and unintelligible. The explanation of that conduct lies in the animistic view which the Papuan takes of the world. It must be most emphatically affirmed that nobody can judge the native aright who has not gained an insight into what we may call his religious opinions. The native must be described as very religious although his ideas do not coincide with ours. His feelings thoughts and will are most intimately connected with his belief in souls. With that belief he is born he has sucked it in with his mother's milk and from the standpoint of that belief he regards the things and occurrences that meet him in life; by that belief he regulates his behaviour. An objective way of looking at events is unknown to him; everything is brought by him into relation to his belief and by it he seeks to explain everything that to him seems strange and rare.”19 “The labyrinth of animistic customs at first sight presents an appearance of wild confusion to him who seeks to penetrate into them and reduce them to order; but on closer inspection he will soon recognise certain guiding lines. These guiding lines are the laws of animism which have passed into the flesh and blood of the Papuan and influence his thought and speech his acts and his omissions his love and hate in short his whole life and death. When once we have discovered these laws the whole of the superstitious nonsense falls into an orderly system which compels us to regard it with a certain respect that increases in proportion to the contempt in which we had previously held the people. We need not wonder moreover that the laws of animism partially correspond to general laws of nature.”20
The essential rationality of the savage.
Thus according to Mr. Keysser who has no theory to maintain and merely gives us in this passage the result of long personal observation the Kai savages are thinking reasoning men whose conduct however strange and at first sight unintelligible it may appear to us is really based on a definite religious or if you please superstitious view of the world. It is true that their theory as well as their practice differs widely from ours; but it would be false and unjust to deny that they have a theory and that on the whole their practice squares with it. Similar testimony is borne to other savage races by men who have lived long among them and observed them closely;21 and on the strength of such testimony I think we may lay it down as a well-established truth that savages in general so far as they are known to us have certain more or less definite theories whether we call them religious or philosophical by which they regulate their conduct and judged by which their acts however absurd they may seem to the civilised man are really both rational and intelligible. Hence it is in my opinion a profound mistake hastily to conclude that because the behaviour of the savage does not agree with our notions of what is reasonable natural and proper it must therefore necessarily be illogical the result of blind impulse rather than of deliberate thought and calculation. No doubt the savage like the civilised man does often act purely on impulse; his passions overmaster his reason and sweep it away before them. He is probably indeed much more impulsive much more liable to be whirled about by gusts of emotion than we are; yet it would be unfair to judge his life as a whole by these occasional outbursts rather than by its general tenour which to those who know him from long observation reveals a groundwork of logic and reason resembling our own in its operations though differing from ours in the premises from which it sets out. I think it desirable to emphasise the rational basis of savage life because it has been the fashion of late years with some writers to question or rather deny it. According to them if I understand them aright the savage acts first and invents his reasons generally very absurd reasons for so doing afterwards. Significantly enough the writers who argue in favour of the essential irrationality of savage conduct have none of them I believe any personal acquaintance with savages. Their conclusions are based not on observation but on purely theoretical deductions a most precarious foundation on which to erect a science of man or indeed of anything. As such they cannot be weighed in the balance against the positive testimony of many witnesses who have lived for years with the savage and affirm emphatically the logical basis which underlies and explains his seeming vagaries. At all events I for one have no hesitation in accepting the evidence of such men to matters of fact with which they are acquainted and I unhesitatingly reject all theories which directly contradict that evidence. If there ever has been any race of men who invariably acted first and thought afterwards I can only say that in the course of my reading and observation I have never met with any trace of them and I am apt to suppose that if they ever existed anywhere but in the imagination of bookish dreamers their career must have been an exceedingly short one since in the struggle for existence they would surely succumb to adversaries who tempered and directed the blind fury of combat with at least a modicum of reason and sense. The myth of the illogical or prelogical savage may safely be relegated to that museum of learned absurdities and abortions which speculative anthropology is constantly enriching with fresh specimens of misapplied ingenuity and wasted industry. But enough of these fantasies. Let us return to facts.
The Kai theory of the soul
The life of the Kai people according to Mr. Keysser is dominated by their conception of the soul. That conception differs greatly from and is very much more extensive than ours. The Kai regards his reflection and his shadow as his soul or parts of it; hence you should not tread on a man's shadow for fear of injuring his soul. The soul likewise dwells in his heart for he feels it beating. Hence if you give a native a friendly poke in the ribs he protests saying “Don't poke me so; you might drive my soul out of my body and then I should die.” The soul moreover resides in the eye where you may see it twinkling; when it departs the eye grows dim and vacant. Moreover the soul is in the foot as much as in the head; it lurks even in the spittle and the other bodily excretions. The soul in fact pervades the body just as warmth does; everything that a man touches he infects so to say with his soul; that mysterious entity exists in the very sound of his voice. The sorcerer catches a man's soul by his magic shuts it up tight and destroys it. Then the man dies. He dies because the sorcerer has killed his soul. Yet the Kai believes whether consistently or not that the soul of the dead man continues to live. He talks to it he makes offerings to it he seeks to win its favour in order that he may have luck in the chase; he fears its ill-will and anger; he gives it food to eat liquor to drink tobacco to smoke and betel to chew. What could a reasonable ghost ask for more?22
Two kinds of human souls
Thus according to Mr. Keysser whose exposition I am simply reproducing the Kai believes not in one nor yet in many souls belonging to each individual; he implicitly assumes that there are two different kinds of souls. One of these is the soul which survives the body at death; in all respects it resembles the man himself as he lived on earth except that it has no body. It is not indeed absolutely incorporeal but it is greatly shrunken and attenuated by death. That is why the souls of the dead are so angry with the living; they repine at their own degraded condition; they envy the full-blooded life which the living enjoy and which the dead have lost. The second kind of soul is distinguished by Mr. Keysser from the former as a spiritual essence or soul-stuff which pervades the body as sap pervades the tree and which diffuses itself like corporeal warmth over everything with which the body is brought into contact.23 In these lectures we are concerned chiefly with the former kind of soul which is believed to survive the death of the body and which answers much more nearly than the second to the popular European conception of the soul. Accordingly in what follows we shall confine our attention mainly to it.
Death thought by the Kai to be commonly caused by sorcery.
Like many other savages the Kai do not believe in the possibility of a natural death; they think that everybody dies through the maleficent arts of sorcerers or ghosts. Even in the case of old people we are told they assume the cause of death to be sorcery and to sorcery all misfortunes are ascribed. If a man falls on the path and wounds himself to death as often happens on the jagged stump of a bamboo the natives conclude that he was bewitched. The way in which the sorcerer brought about the catastrophe was this. He obtained some object which was infected with the soul-stuff or spiritual essence of his victim; he stuck a pile in the ground he spread the soul-stuff on the pile; then he pretended to wound himself on the pile and to groan with pain. Anybody can see for himself that by a natural and necessary concatenation of causes this compelled the poor fellow to stumble over that jagged bamboo stump and to perish miserably. Again take the case of a hunter in the forest who is charged and ripped up by a wild boar. On a superficial view of the circumstances it might perhaps occur to you that the cause of death was the boar. But you would assuredly be mistaken. The real cause of death was again a sorcerer who pounded up the soul-stuff of his victim with a boar's tooth. Again suppose that a man is bitten by a serpent and dies. A shallow rationalist might say that the man died of the bite; but the Kai knows better. He is aware that what really killed him was the sorcerer who took a pinch of his victim's soul and bunged it up tight in a tube along with the sting of a snake. Similarly if a woman dies in childbed or if a man hangs himself the cause of death is still a sorcerer operating with the appropriate means and gestures. Thus to make a man hang himself all that the sorcerer has to do is to get a scrap of his victim's soul—and the smallest scrap is quite enough for his purpose it may be a mere shred or speck of soul adhering to a hair of the man's head to a drop of his sweat or to a crumb of his food—I say that the sorcerer need only obtain a tiny little bit of his victim's soul clap it in a tube set the tube dangling at the end of a string and go through a pantomime of gurgling goggling and so forth like a man in the last stage of strangulation and his victim is thereby physically compelled to put his neck in the noose and hang himself in good earnest.24
Danger incurred by the sorcerer
Where these views of sorcery prevail it is no wonder that the sorcerer is an unpopular character. He naturally therefore shrinks from publicity and hides his somewhat lurid light under a bushel. Not to put too fine a point on it he carries his life in his hand and may be knocked on the head at any moment without the tedious formality of a trial. Once his professional reputation is established all the deaths in the neighbourhood may be set down at his door. If he gets wind of a plot to assassinate him he may stave off his doom for a while by soothing the angry passions of his enemies with presents but sooner or later his fate is sealed.25
Many hurts and maladies attributed by the kai to the action of ghosts.
In other cases the sickness is traced to witchcraft.
Capturing a lost soul.
However the Kai savage is far from attributing all deaths without distinction to sorcerers.26 In many hurts and maladies he detects the cold clammy hand of a ghost. If a man for example wounds himself in the forest perhaps in the pursuit of a wild beast he may imagine that he has been speared or clubbed by a malignant ghost. And when a person falls ill the first thing to do is naturally to ascertain the cause of the illness in order that it may be treated properly. In all such enquiries Mr. Keysser tells us suspicion first falls on the ghosts; they are looked upon as even worse than the sorcerers.27 So when a doctor is called in to see a patient the only question with him is whether the sickness is caused by a sorcerer or a ghost. To decide this nice point he takes a boiled taro over which he has pronounced a charm. This he bites and if he finds a small stone in the fruit he decides that ghosts are the cause of the malady; but if on the other hand he detects a minute roll of leaves he knows that the sufferer is bewitched. In the latter case the obvious remedy is to discover the sorcerer and to induce him for an adequate consideration to give up the magic tube in which he has bottled up a portion of the sick man's soul. If however the magician turns a deaf ear alike to the voice of pity and the allurement of gain the resources of the physician are not yet exhausted. He now produces his whip or scourge for souls. This valuable instrument consists like a common whip of a handle with a lash attached to it but what gives it the peculiar qualities which distinguish it from all other whips is a small packet tied to the end of the lash. The packet contains a certain herb and the sick man and his friends must all touch it in order to impregnate it with the volatile essence of their souls. Armed with this potent implement the doctor goes by night into the depth of the forest; for the darkness of night and the solitude of the woods are necessary for the success of the delicate operation which this good physician of souls has now to perform. Finding himself alone he whistles for the lost soul of the sufferer and if only the sorcerer by his infernal craft has not yet brought it to death's door the soul appears at the sound of the whistle; for it is strongly attracted by the soul-stuff of its friends in the packet. But the doctor has still to catch it a feat which is not so easily accomplished as might be supposed. It is now that the whip of souls comes into play. Suddenly the doctor heaves up his arm and lashes out at the truant soul with all his might. If only he hits it the business is done the soul is captured the doctor carries it back to the house in triumph and restores it to the body of the poor sick man who necessarily recovers.28
Extracting ghosts from a sick man.
But suppose that the result of the diagnosis is different and that on mature consideration the doctor should decide that a ghost and not a sorcerer is at the bottom of the mischief. The question then naturally arises whether the sick man has not of late been straying on haunted ground and infected himself with the very dangerous soul-stuff or spiritual essence of the dead. If he remembers to have done so some leaves are fetched from the place in the forest where the mishap occurred and with them the whole body of the sufferer or the wound as the case may be is stroked or brushed down. The healing virtue of this procedure is obvious. The ghosts who are vexing the patient are attracted by the familiar smell of the leaves which come from their old home; and yielding in a moment of weakness to the soft emotions excited by the perfume they creep out of the body of the sick man and into the leaves. Quick as thought the doctor now whisks the leaves away with the ghosts in them; he belabours them with a cudgel he hangs them up in the smoke or he throws them into the fire. Such powerful disinfectants have their natural results; if the ghosts are not absolutely destroyed they are at least disarmed and the sick is made whole.
Scraping ghosts from the patient's body
Another equally effective cure for sickness caused by ghosts is this. You take a stout stick cleave it down the middle so that the two ends remain entire and give it to two men to hold. Then the sick man pokes his head through the cleft; after that you rub him with the stick from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet. In this way you obviously scrape off the bloodsucking ghosts who are clinging like flies or mosquitoes to his person and having thus transferred them to the cleft stick you throw it away or otherwise destroy it. The cure is now complete and if the patient does not recover he cannot reasonably blame the doctor who has done all that humanly speaking could be done to bring back the bloom of health to the poor sick man.29
Extravagant demonstrations of grief at the death of a sick man.
If however the sick man obstinately persists in dying there is a great uproar in the village. For the fear of his ghost has now fallen like a thunderclap on all the people. His disembodied spirit is believed to be hovering in the air seeing everything that is done hearing every word that is spoken and woe to the unlucky wight who does not display a proper degree of sorrow for the irreparable loss that has just befallen the community. Accordingly shrieks of despair begin to resound and crocodile tears to flow in cataracts. The whole population assemble and give themselves up to the most frantic demonstrations of grief. Cries are raised on all sides “Why must he die?” “Wherefore did they bewitch him?” “Those wicked wicked men!” “I'll do for them!” “I'll hew them in pieces!” “I'll destroy their crops!” “I'll fell all their palm-trees!” “I'll stick all their pigs!” “O brother why did you leave me?” “O friend how can I live without you?” To make good these threats one man will be seen prancing wildly about and stabbing with a spear at the invisible sorcerers; another catches up a cudgel and at one blow shivers a water-pot of the deceased into atoms or rushes out like one demented and lays a palm-tree level with the ground. Some fling themselves prostrate beside the corpse and sob as if their very hearts would break. They take the dead man by the hand they stroke him they straighten out the poor feet which are already growing cold. They coo to him softly they lift up the languid head and then lay it gently down. Then in a frenzy of grief one of them will leap to his feet shriek bellow stamp on the floor grapple with the roof beams shake the walls as if he would pull the house down and finally hurl himself on the ground and roll over and over howling as if his distress was more than he could endure. Another looks wildly about him. He sees a knife. He grasps it. His teeth are set his mind is made up. “Why need he die?” he cries “he my friend with whom I had all things in common with whom I ate out of the same dish?” Then there is a quick movement of the knife and down he falls. But he is not dead. He has only slit the flap of one of his ears and the trickling blood bedabbles his body. Meantime with the hoarse cries of the men are mingled the weeping and wailing the shrill screams and lamentations of the women; while above all the din and uproar rises the booming sound of the shell trumpets blown to carry the tidings of death to all the villages in the neighbourhood. But gradually the wild tumult dies away into silence. Grief or the simulation of it has exhausted itself: the people grow calm; they sit down they smoke or chew betel while some engage in the last offices of attention to the dead.30
Hypocritical character of these demonstrations which are intended to deceived the ghost.
A civilised observer who witnessed such a scene of boisterous lamentation but did not know the natives well might naturally set down all these frantic outbursts to genuine sorrow and might enlarge accordingly on the affectionate nature of savages who are thus cut to the heart by the death of any one of their acquaintance. But the missionary who knows them better assures us that most of these expressions of mourning and despair are a mere blind to deceive and soothe the dreaded ghost of the deceased into a comfortable persuasion that he is fondly loved and sadly missed by his surviving relatives and friends. This view of the essential hypocrisy of the lamentations is strongly confirmed by the threats which sick people will sometimes utter to their attendants “If you don't take better care of me” a man will sometimes say “and if you don't do everything you possibly can to preserve my valuable life my ghost will serve you out.” That is why friends and relations are so punctilious in paying visits of respect and condolence to the sick. Sometimes the last request which a dying man addresses to his kinsfolk is that they will kill this or that sorcerer who has killed him; and he enforces the injunction by threats of the terrible things he will do to them in his disembodied state if they fail to avenge his death on his imaginary murderer. As all the relatives of a dead man stand in fear of his ghost the body may not be buried until all of them have had an opportunity of paying their respects to it. If as sometimes happens a corpse is interred before a relative can arrive from a distance he will on arrival break out into reproaches and upbraidings against the grave-diggers for exposing him to the wrath of the departed spirit.31
Burial and mourning customs of the Kai.
Preservations of the lower jawbone
When all the relations and friends have assembled and testified their sorrow the body is buried on the second or third day after death. The grave is usually dug under the house and is so shallow that even when it has been closed the stench is often very perceptible. The ornaments which were placed on the body when it was laid out are removed before it is lowered into the grave and the dead takes his last rest wrapt in a simple leaf-mat. Often a dying man expresses a wish not to be buried. In that case his corpse tightly bandaged is deposited in a corner of the house and the products of decomposition are allowed to drain through a tube into the ground. When they have ceased to run the bundle is opened and the bones taken out and buried except the lower jawbone which is preserved sometimes along with one of the lower arm bones. The lower jawbone reminds the possessor of the duty of blood revenge which he owes to the deceased and which the dying man may have inculcated on him with his last breath. The lower arm bone brings luck in the chase especially if the departed relative was a mighty hunter. However if the hunters have a long run of bad luck they conclude that the ghost has departed to the under world and accordingly bury the lower arm bone and the lower jawbone with the rest of the skeleton. The length of the period of mourning is similarly determined by the good or bad fortune of the huntsmen. If the ghost provides them with game in abundance for a long time after his death the days of mourning are proportionately extended; but when the game grows scarce or fails altogether the mourning comes to an end and the memory of the deceased soon fades away.32 The savage is a thoroughly practical man and is not such a fool as to waste his sorrow over a ghost who gives him nothing in return. Nothing for nothing is his principle. His relations to the dead stand on a strictly commercial basis.
Mourning costume
Widows strangled to accompany their dead husbands.
The mourning costume consists of strings round the neck bracelets of reed on the arms and a cylindrical hat of bark on the head. A widow is swathed in nets. The intention of the costume is to signify to the ghost the sympathy which the mourner feels for him in his disembodied state. If the man in his lifetime was wont to crouch shivering over the fire a little fire will be kept up for a time at the foot of the grave in order to warm his homeless spirit33 The widow or widower has to discharge the disagreeable duty of living day and night for several weeks in a hovel built directly over the grave. Not unfrequently the lot of a widow is much harder. At her own request she is sometimes strangled and buried with her husband in the grave in order that her soul may accompany his on the journey to the other world. The other relations have no interest in encouraging the woman to sacrifice herself rather the contrary; but if she insists they fear to balk her lest they should offend the ghost of her husband who would punish them in many ways for keeping his wife from him. But even such voluntary sacrifices if we may believe Mr. Ch. Keysser are dictated rather by a selfish calculation than by an impulse of disinterested affection. He mentions the case of a man named Jabu both of whose wives chose thus to attend their husband in death. The deceased was an industrious man a skilful hunter and farmer who provided his wives with abundance of food. As such men are believed to work hard also in the other world tilling fields and killing game just as here the widows thought they could not do better than follow him as fast as possible to the spirit land since they had no prospect of getting such another husband here on earth. “How firmly convinced” adds the missionary admiringly “must these people be of the reality of another world when they sacrifice their earthly existence not for the sake of a better life hereafter but merely in order to be no worse off there than they have been on earth.” And he adds that this consideration explains why no man ever chooses to be strangled at the death of his wife. The labour market in the better land is apparently not recruited from the ranks of women.34
House or village deserted after a death.
The house in which anybody has died is deserted because the ghost of the dead is believed to haunt it and make it unsafe at night. If the deceased was a chief or a man of importance the whole village is abandoned and a new one built on another site.35